Food is the fuel that helps athletes perform their best. Without it, endurance, strength and overall performance will be down. If you want to get the most out of your workouts and athletic capabilities, your diet should be a top priority in your fitness efforts.
As your body puts out energy through exercise and training, you need to replenish those lost nutrients, which can be done by choosing the right foods.
Proper recovery is a big part of an athlete’s training and will affect performance if not done properly. A big component of recovery includes adequate nutrition, which will ensure that you get to your next workout, race or competition with the energy stores needed for peak performance.
Certain foods, when consumed at certain times will actually improve your performance significantly. Consuming caffeine at the right time in the right quantities has been proven, for example, to shave valuable seconds off finish times in endurance-based sports.
Daily training diet requirements
The basic training diet should be sufficient to:
- provide enough energy and nutrients to meet the demands of training and exercise
- enhance adaptation and recovery between training sessions
- include a wide variety of foods like wholegrain breads and cereals, vegetables (particularly leafy green varieties), fruit, lean meat and low-fat dairy products to enhance long term nutrition habits and behaviours
- enable the athlete to achieve optimal body weight and body fat levels for performance
- provide adequate fluids to ensure maximum hydration before, during and after exercise
- promote the short and long-term health of athletes.
Berries: blackberries, raspberries and blueberries are just a handful of the delicious berries that are rich in antioxidants, which need to be replenished after physical activity. Darker berries contain phytochemicals and other protective elements that prevent oxidative stress that occurs in the body during strenuous activities. They also preserve muscle strength as you age, so they’re good for the long term.
Bananas: are a low-calorie, excellent source of natural electrolytes, which need to be replaced after a workout or sporting event. They’re also high in potassium, which makes them the perfect post-event snack. Eating one banana will help you regulate your fluid intake (since you’re drinking more water before, after and during physical exertion). It will also protect you from muscle spasms or cramps.
Avocado, which is classified as a fruit, are rich in monounsaturated fat that is easily burned for energy. As I’ve mentioned before, eliminating grain carbs is one of the best ways to support your health and maintain your weight, but when you cut down on carbs, you need to increase your intake of healthy fats. Avocados are an excellent source, along with organic raw butter, coconut oil, and organic pastured eggs, just to name a few.
Salmon: is packed with lean, muscle-building protein and omega-3 fatty acids, which reduces the inflammation that can happen with continual athletic activity. It is also a natural artery cleanser, helping to prevent heart disease, which can affect even the most active people.
Lean Poultry: skinless turkey and chicken breast are some of the healthiest, high-protein selections. Poultry contains the highest amount of valine, one of the three BCAAs essential to muscle building.
Yogurt: is a good source of calcium, vitamin D, potassium and protein. Go for Greek varieties if you are looking for extra protein from whole foods (though most young athletes don’t need large amounts of protein in their diet).
Cheese: cheese is a quick and easy snack, especially when packaged in sticks or blocks. Mix cheese into casseroles, pasta and layer it in sandwiches. Cheese is full of calcium, potassium, and protein.
Whey Protein: contains the essential amino acids. Quickly absorbed by the body, it lacks fat and cholesterol, which makes it an ideal formula for athletes to consume. Whey contains the levels of protein and amino acids necessary to rebuild muscles and protects against muscle breakdown.
Eggs: are just such a nutritious food and the perfect food to have for breakfast,” says Erica Giovinazzo MS, RD and a trainer at Brick CrossFit in New York City. “They’re high in protein, good fat and the yolks are rich in carotenoids, a nutrient that can help eye health.
Cruciferous Vegetables: dark, leafy greens such as spinach and kale, as well as broccoli, cauliflower and brussel sprouts are rich in antioxidants, vitamins and minerals to boost your athletic abilities. They also contain high levels of vitamins A, K and B6, and calcium and iron, all of which protect the body against inflammation. Iron also means more oxygen being supplied to working muscles. Kale contains carotenoids and flavonoids, two power antioxidants, and fiber, which helps lower cholesterol.
Spinach has long been recognized as an antioxidant powerhouse known to fight free radical damage in your body. Not only can spinach protect you from serious illnesses like cancer and heart disease, suggests Carlucci, but this healthy green can also help you rebound after strenuous exercise due to its nitrate content. Spinach also contains magnesium, which helps maintain normal muscle and nerve function, among other benefits.
Sweet Potatoes: are rich in vitamins A and C, both antioxidants that remove free radicals from your body. They lower blood pressure, which is important for athletes to their heart health when participating in sports. They’re high in vitamin and mineral content and contain the levels of potassium, iron, manganese and copper athletes need for healthy muscles.
Nuts: are high in protein and healthy fats, making them a mainstay in athletes’ diets. Eaten with carbs, they help level out your blood sugar and sustain the carbs over a longer period of time, rather than burning them off right away. They’re also easier to digest and don’t upset your stomach. Another plant-based protein, nuts are rich in fiber and antioxidants like vitamin E. The anti-inflammatory nutrients found in nuts makes them great for bone health, which is needed by every athlete. They also lower the bad cholesterol, which is good for heart health.
Seeds: similar to nuts, seeds are full of fiber, healthy fats, magnesium and vitamin E. Eat them like you would nuts.
Oatmeal: is an excellent source of energy carbs for athletes and is high in fiber, helping you feel fuller, longer. It’s 100 percent whole grain, helping to lower your risk of heart disease. If you’re looking to gain weight, oatmeal is a delicious way to help you achieve your goal weight. Be sure to choose steel-cut oats as opposed to instant oats. The instant oats have a higher glycemic index, which will cause your insulin levels to spike, causing you to end up storing the carbs as fat.
Whole Grains: like barley, oats, bulgur, wheat berries, and black rice contain soluble fiber that regulates blood cholesterol levels. Whole grains are good sources of resistant starch, which means they take longer to be broken down by the body. So, in other words, they have staying power.
Quinoa: is usually considered a whole grain—and a super one, at that. It’s got nearly twice as much protein (8 grams per cup) as other grains, and it’s one of the only foods to contain all nine essential amino acids our bodies need to build lean muscle and recover from tough workouts. Quinoa is also a great source of fiber and carbohydrates, says Barbara Lewin, R.D., a sports nutritionist in Fort Meyers, Florida.
Beans and Legumes: for vegetarian athletes (or those who just want to go meatless once and a while), plant-based sources of protein are a must. These include soybeans (and tofu), lentils, peas, and all varieties of beans—black, pinto, white, kidney, you name it. “Most people don’t eat enough of these or they say they don’t like them,” says Lewin. “But really, you can do so much with them: add them into salads, make a three-bean chili, eat hummus… you don’t have to just eat them straight out of a can every day.”
I am eager and excited to help and assist you in designing your own customized nutrition plan that will support you in attaining your athletic goals.